Saturday, February 19, 2011

So Not--Worth the Hurt

I guess you can say I have a very high tolerance for pain. When I had my daughter, the doctors missed my epidural window and was forced to go through it the rough way.  That became my barometer.  It seems like any other aches and pain that may have come along the way did not measure up to that kind of pain. So in my fifteen years of running, when I hurt I quite readily dismiss it as temporary--in due time, "it will go away"--four words my chiropractor is scared of the most. 

My pain had been building up gradually for about two years. I failed to recognize it in my over-exuberance of running as I managed to blur the distinction between pain and soreness. It was easy to do and here's how I did it.  Running simply hurts. There is no way around that. Parts of your body will become sore after you run.  The soreness is due to the demands you put your body through such as minute muscle tears. The muscle breaks down and proper resting builds it back up, allowing you to become stronger and able to move on to the next round of harder workouts.  Each recovery builds you up to the next level. I understood that. Day in and day out, through marathon training cycles month after month, I was on this cycle of training and recovery. Somehow, I misread my body's cue that pain is not the normal sore that comes after a run. Somewhere along, I became impatient and couldn't wait to get back out to feel the cold air against my face. Sore or not, I was ready to move and failed to realize that I needed more than the occasional day or two of rest and recovery that I allowed myself.

It used to be that pain would accompany me near the end of  my run or after the run. In a span of several months, the pain progressed to hitting me in the middle of my long runs. The pain was more noticeable the day after the run. For example, getting out of bed, getting out of the car, bending over to tie my shoes, or simply shifting my weight from one foot to the other, I felt dull, sometimes sharp pain in the lower back region. It was getting harder to pinpoint the source because it seemed to have moved.  Then this year, fresh from a new PR in New York City Marathon and armed with a new year's resolution, I upped the ante and ran more hills and added more running days to my weekly mileage.  The return on my investment was negative. The pain got worse and came with the first step of every run.  Worried, I would take 3-4 days rest between each run to see if the pain would go away, only to realize that it was very much still there by the first step I took.  It was demoralizing. With Napa coming up around the corner, it had my full attention. What if this pain does not go away and end my running? I can't even remember the last time I ran freely, not taking inventory of what's hurting every step of the way. This isn't fun anymore. I searched my running log for answers. What could have I possibly done? My log revealed the downward trend in black and white. There were some red flags early in the year. I hadn't realized it then, but I had the pain at every run. It wasn't imagined, it was written in ink.  Every entry indicated lower back/leg pain.  If it weren't for my log, I believe that I would probably kept on running through it--probably kept hope that it would go away.  But the pain I felt in the first step was a huge wake up call. It was real and it was not going away any time soon. 

Alarmed by how long I've been able to tolerate this kind of uncomfortable pain in my running, I decided to go see a Chiropractor. I haven't seen one in seven years.  My chiropractor was great.  He educated me on sublexation and the body's function in general.  He readjusted my body's alignment and I was grateful for that. However, after two visits, he required me to return to the office for 3 more visits so that he can give me the treatment, each visit lasting no more than 15 minutes.  Given my terrible health benefits, high co-pay and high deductible, at $40 bucks an office visit quickly takes its toll. Don't get me wrong, I am not putting a price on my health, but I was also growing impatient with my progress or lack thereof.  I was not expecting a miracle to get me healthy again, but at the same token, I want the chiropractor to focus on where the source of my pain is.  He was focused on my lower back, which I know is not the ultimate problem. I decided to drop the chiropractor. I was willing to take drastic measures and not run until the day of the marathon, March 6th.  I figured what I needed was complete rest and recovery from running. This has to help somehow. After all, I will be toeing the line at Napa focused on damage control rather than peaked in training. It will be better to go to it under trained rather than hurt. I am willing to take that chance, until a dear running buddy suggested Chinese Acupuncture. I've never had that done before, I thought what have I got to lose?  I made the appointment for Wednesday. I do have high hopes and am keeping my fingers crossed. Will keep you posted. 

Run Happy!


  1. Hope all is going well since you posted this. I am a VERY tall runner who used to have chronic lower back pain (until I found running). I strengthened my core a little (i still dont do enough of this). My biggest gains/relief came from focusing on my form. I was told once to "run like i was balancing a clothes line on top of my head" - run tall. I adjusted my hip position a little - which affects how you lift your legs - which affects your lower back since it acts as the counterbalance. My humble advice (only been running a couple of years) would be this: rest as much as possible. Maybe do a few easy 5 milers to stay loose and try out different postures. Maybe shorten your stride a tad (or at least increase your turnover. I'm 6'7" and when my stride is too big it kills my lower back). I've seen you run and you run with strength. You are too close to your race to make any major changes, but maybe a little "fine-tuning" might yield some comfort? Good Luck! - Jason
    PS.(I had a small stress fracture 30 days before my first marathon and was unable to run more than 5 miles at a time for that last month. I finished sub4. My point? Prior conditioning will carry you through. Dont fret about your miles or lack of. Stress is an anchor.)

  2. Hey Jason! Thank you so much for the motivating words. A stress fracture sounds crazy and you were able to do sub-4! maybe there's hope yet for me. I am feeling better. Resting today and going for that last 8 miler Sunday with a few strides. Then it's seven days of trying to keep my composure and not do anything silly. The taper madness is on. I'll keep that in mind, to run tall and keep my posture upright. Been trying to shorten my stride also. That helps.